Ash Wednesday – The Season Of Lent Begins
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent and is the first of the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter. Ash Wednesday — officially known as the Day of Ashes — is a day of repentance, when Christians confess their sins and profess their devotion to God.
Forty is a special number in both the Jewish and Christian sacred texts. The Jewish people journeyed for 40 years on their way to the Promised Land. In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus spends forty days praying in the desert before he begins his public ministry. Christians have traditionally used this symbolic period as a time of preparation for Easter – one of Christianity’s most important feasts and holy days.
In 2021 Ash Wednesday falls on Wednesday, February 17th.
What is Lent
Lent is the annual period of Christian observance that precedes Easter. The dates of lent are defined by the date of Easter, which is movable. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and its observance lasts for 40 days, mirroring the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before starting his ministry. The Lenten Fast starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (not to be confused with Easter Saturday, the Saturday after Easter). This is a period of 46 days. However, the six Sundays within the period are not fast days (Sundays are always feast days in the Christian calendar) and therefore not counted in the 40 days of Lent.
Why Ash Day
The ashes on our foreheads are a visible sign that we are followers of Jesus. The ashes are also a way to tell ourselves and those around us that we are beginning the holy season of Lent—the forty days leading up to Easter. Prayer Services are often held at large Catholic parishes, in addition to Ash Wednesday Masses, to accommodate the many devout Christians who wish to begin their observance of Lent with the blessing of the ashes. It is not required for observant Catholic Christians to attend Mass upon this first day of Lent.
The ashes are traditionally made by burning last year’s Palm Sunday palms. In the United States, the custom is to mark the cross on a person’s forehead, but in other parts of the world, including in Italy, the ashes are sprinkled on a person’s head. Ashes are blessed and distributed on Ash Wednesday, often during Mass or a prayer service. People walk up to the altar using the same process as Communion.
As it is the first day of Lent, many Christians begin Ash Wednesday by marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and making a Lenten sacrifice that they will not partake of until the arrival of Eastertide. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence. Abstinence from eating meat applies to everyone age 14 and above. Fasting applies to everyone age 18-59.
During the season of Lent, Christians traditionally engage in three practices: